Nina has been “suggesting” (read that as nagging rather!) to me for the last few months to write at least once on her weekly blog as a guest blogger, but I kept finding excuses to escape from it! However, following such a fantastic day last Thursday, 20th October, I felt I should write about our experience at Windsor Castle and the Investiture Ceremony. I have no doubt that Nina will add even more detail about the day, but here is my take on the magical day.
Collecting an OBE from the Princess Royal will rate as one of the greatest moments of my life and I will cherish the memory of the day forever. It is odd because being a French man, (albeit with dual nationality), I grew up as a staunch Republican and even after having lived for a few years in England, I still could not understand why so much respect was given to the Royal Family by so many.
But over the years, I started to “get it”. First, in our early days together, (twenty three years ago!) Nina told me how when as a student she had met the Princess Royal and how lovely she had been. Over the years, I listened to many people telling me about the wonderful work the Royal Family do for charity. In 1990, I took British nationality, whilst still retaining my French nationality too, so that I could properly represent the UK in all of my wine competitions and I had to swear allegiance to The Queen. This was my first real contact with the Royal spirit. In May 2008, I was privileged to be part of a group of several people from the British Hospitality industry who were invited for an afternoon reception at Buckingham Palace hosted by The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. That day I became totally converted. So, when last Thursday we went to Windsor Castle, I was completely hooked on The Royal Family.
Having read of the Queen‘s departure to Australia, I knew it would not be Her Majesty who would award me my OBE medal. I was secretly hoping it would be Princess Anne, The Princess Royal. So when all the recipients of honours were reunited in a room for a debriefing and we were given instruction as to what to do when meeting the Princess Royal, I was over the moon. Twenty minutes later waiting in line for my turn and looking with the utmost attention at what the person just before me was doing, I was just a minute or so before being presented to the Princess Royal and my heart was pounding with anticipation. In my head I was rehearsing what I had to do and then my name was called.
A deep breath and I walked forwards and then turned in front of the Princess Royal; I bowed to her and then walked towards her. Princess Anne looked sensational, she was dressed in naval uniform and has flawless skin, lovely hair and an amazing figure. After putting the OBE medal on my left lapel, she immediately addressed me in perfect French, I tried hard to stay calm but I was still a bit nervous at finding myself conversing with the Princess Royal. She mentioned that her brother, Prince Edward had really enjoyed his meal at Hotel du Vin. I was very surprised and really impressed that she knew of Prince Edward’s visit to Hotel du Vin, Winchester in the late 1990s (I remember extremely well the visit of Prince Edward- he was very friendly, relaxed and charming). A minute later, the Princess Royal shook my hand, The signal to all the investees that we were expected to move backwards a few steps, bow or curtesy, turn and walk away. We were around seventy people to be honoured so I was amazed that so much research had been done and that the Princess Royal gave all of us so much time.
Another point I must mention was that during the immaculate ceremony, a wonderful orchestra played superbly a number of different pieces of music, including two French songs from Edith Piaf. Of course, I don’t know for sure, but I am convinced that because there was a Frenchman amongst the investee recipients, it had been organized specially; anyway, it was a lovely touch. All of the courtiers were charming, worked hard to put us all at ease and relax and ensure we had a marvellous time.
After the official ceremony, all the recipients and their families had the option to be photographed. We had a brilliant photographer looking after us, Gill who was an absolute star and made the whole photo session great fun. All around the room I saw many happy faces, but I could not stop noticing how incredibly elegant my wife Nina looked. I know I am biased, but for me she was the star of the show in her magnificent orange dress; in my view she should have been given the OBE not me, as she has been so influential in my success over the years. It was also fantastic that our son Romané and my parents in law, Jean and Tony were able to attend the ceremony, as they too have played a big part in my career.
In the evening we went to celebrate at The Waterside Inn, a fabulous place, where I went to train last year whilst preparing the Best Sommelier in the World Competition. It was the perfect end to a magical day. The food was of course stunning, but above all the service, orchestrated by Diego Masciaga, is simply exceptional. Diego is for me one of the very best , a great Master of his art- a legend. He and his team treated us like Royalty and spoilt us completely. Thank you to all of the team and especially to Simone, the talented young sommelier. They all made our special occasion an enormous success; thank you all so much.
Sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to add to GB’s blog….. I cannot tell you all how proud we are of him and all of his success. The day at the castle was utterly brilliant, Gerard looked fabulously proud and happy and we all had a marvellous time sharing in such a special occasion and celebrating the honour with him. Well done Gerard- you were brilliant and justly deserve your award.
Till next week
Gerard and Nina x